The Bum that Wants to Do Wonderful Things

…with your money.

From Investors Business Daily:

Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders said Monday his parents would never have thought their son would end up in the Senate and running for president. No kidding. He was a ne’er-do-well into his late 30s.

“It’s certainly something that I don’t think they ever believed would’ve happened,” the unabashed socialist remarked during CNN’s Democratic town hall forum, as polls show him taking the lead in Iowa and New Hampshire.

He explained his family couldn’t imagine his “success,” because “my brother and I and Mom and Dad grew up in a three-and-a-half-room rent-controlled apartment in Brooklyn, and we never had a whole lot of money.”

It wasn’t as bad as he says. His family managed to send him to the University of Chicago. Despite a prestigious degree, however, Sanders failed to earn a living, even as an adult. It took him 40 years to collect his first steady paycheck — and it was a government check.

“I never had any money my entire life,” Sanders told Vermont public TV in 1985, after settling into his first real job as mayor of Burlington.

Sanders spent most of his life as an angry radical and agitator who never accomplished much of anything. And yet now he thinks he deserves the power to run your life and your finances — “We will raise taxes;” he confirmed Monday, “yes, we will.”

One of his first jobs was registering people for food stamps, and it was all downhill from there.

Sanders took his first bride to live in a maple sugar shack with a dirt floor, and she soon left him. Penniless, he went on unemployment. Then he had a child out of wedlock. Desperate, he tried carpentry but could barely sink a nail. “He was a shi**y carpenter,” a friend told Politico Magazine. “His carpentry was not going to support him, and didn’t.”

Then he tried his hand freelancing for leftist rags, writing about “masturbation and rape” and other crudities for $50 a story. He drove around in a rusted-out, Bondo-covered VW bug with no working windshield wipers. Friends said he was “always poor” and his “electricity was turned off a lot.” They described him as a slob who kept a messy apartment — and this is what his friends had to say about him.

The only thing he was good at was talking … non-stop … about socialism and how the rich were ripping everybody off. “The whole quality of life in America is based on greed,” the bitter layabout said. “I believe in the redistribution of wealth in this nation.”

So he tried politics, starting his own socialist party. Four times he ran for Vermont public office, and four times he lost — badly. He never attracted more than single-digit support — even in the People’s Republic of Vermont. In his 1971 bid for U.S. Senate, the local press said the 30-year-old “Sanders describes himself as a carpenter who has worked with ‘disturbed children.’ ” In other words, a real winner.

He finally wormed his way into the Senate in 2006, where he still ranks as one of the poorest members of Congress. Save for a municipal pension, Sanders lists no assets in his name. All the assets provided in his financial disclosure form are his second wife’s. He does, however, have as much as $65,000 in credit-card debt.

Sure, Sanders may not be a hypocrite, but this is nothing to brag about. His worthless background contrasts sharply with the successful careers of other “outsiders” in the race for the White House, including a billionaire developer, a world-renowned neurosurgeon and a Fortune 500 CEO.

The choice in this election is shaping up to be a very clear one. It will likely boil down to a battle between those who create and produce wealth, and those who take it and redistribute it.

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Obama Wants to Do Wonderful Things

…with more of your money.

From Kevin D. Williamson:

If you’re enjoying the low gasoline prices currently on offer throughout most of the country, some bad news: The Obama administration wants to levy a 31 percent tax on the stuff out of which gasoline is made.

But, not to fear: The tax will be paid by oil companies, which are big and mean and nasty and would never, ever, ever pass on the cost to a nice guy like you.

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Trump’s Terrific People

From Kevin D. Williamson:

Donald Trump’s professed strategy — for everything — is: I’ll find the best people, the smartest people, terrific people, and those terrific people will come up with the best solutions possible. Implicit here is a pyramid of terrificness with Donald Trump at its apex.

And what was Trump’s explanation for his poor performance in Iowa? “People told me my ground game was fine.” I.e., “I got bad advice.” As it turns out, Trump could not find the best people, the smartest people, terrific people for the relatively straightforward process of identifying supporters in Iowa, the population of which is less than half of Long Island’s, and getting them to caucus locations.

Bend Beijing to his will? Construct thousands of miles of effective barriers across the Mexican border? He couldn’t get his team to the Dunkerton Community Hall and Bunger Middle School when it really mattered.

Trump cannot accept responsibility for his mistakes, which is a crippling disability for any leader. He blames his underlings while insisting that the most important skill he brings to the contest is his ability to choose the right people for the job.

I am skeptical of Trump’s purported business acumen. I am a very big fan of almost all business plans that begin with “Inherit vast wealth and a thriving enterprise from daddy,” but I don’t think those arrangements necessarily produce great leaders. But even if you take him at his word (always a mistake — the man is a habitual liar — but, arguendo) the fact is that those skills aren’t necessarily transferable. Trump has vision, but his vision is: “You know what this casino needs? A strip club.”

Greasing Atlantic City politicians and cowering behind Cole Schotz every time you misplay your hand isn’t very much like being the commander in chief of the United States of America.

And “I’ll have the best people” isn’t much of a strategy for a man who plainly cannot recognize them when he sees them.

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Isn’t It Strange?

From Walter E. Williams:

There is a letter titled “Isn’t It Strange?” making the rounds in email boxes. It asks questions to which our fellow Americans should know the answers, save for those caught up in modernity.

It starts off asking, “Isn’t it strange that after a bombing, everyone blames the bomber, his upbringing, his environment, his culture but … after a shooting, the problem is the gun?” In other words, after a shooting, it is the gun, an inanimate object, that is the culprit, but after a bombing, it is not the bomb that receives the blame but the evil individual. In both cases it is the evil individual who is to blame.

Ronald Reagan had it right when he said, “We must reject the idea that every time a law’s broken, society is guilty rather than the lawbreaker. It is time to restore the American precept that each individual is accountable for his actions.”

Speaking of guns, the letter has a 1950s photo of high school girls at an indoor shooting range. The photo caption states: “Back in the 1950s and even later, many high schools had shooting ranges. Students even brought their own rifles to school.” It asks, “What changed in society that we could trust such activities then, but not now?”

Youth involvement with guns has a long history. The 1911 second edition of the Boy Scout Handbook made qualification in NRA’s junior marksmanship program a prerequisite for obtaining a BSA merit badge in marksmanship. In 1918, the Winchester Repeating Arms Co. established its own Winchester Junior Rifle Corps. The program grew to 135,000 members by 1925. In New York City, high school gun clubs were started at Boys, Curtis, Commercial, Manual Training and Stuyvesant high schools. I would like to ask America’s anti-gun fanatics what accounts for today’s mayhem: Have guns become more evil or have people become more evil?

The letter contains several photos under the caption, “These men support your right to bear arms.” The photos are of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and Alexander Hamilton. Below it is the caption, “These men oppose it,” with photos of Adolf Hitler, Fidel Castro, Josef Stalin, Idi Amin, Vladimir Lenin and Barack Obama. Then it asks, “Who do you trust?”

Later on in the letter, there is a statement asking us to rename government programs, saying, “Get it straight: Welfare, Food Stamps, WIC … are not entitlements. They are taxpayer-funded handouts, and shouldn’t be called entitlements. Social Security and Veterans Benefits are ‘Entitlements’ because the people receiving them are entitled to them. They were earned and paid for by the recipients.”

Then there is a warning: “No society ever thrived because it had a large and growing class of parasites living off those who produced.” If one listens to the current debate and rhetoric of most politicians, both Democrats or Republicans, it is about expanding the class of Americans who live at the expense of other Americans, whether they are promising “free” education and medical care or forcing Americans to purchase products such as ethanol in order to enrich others.

John Wayne put it best, particularly for my colleagues in academia. “I’d like to know why well-educated idiots keep apologizing for lazy and complaining people who think the world owes them a living.”

Toward the letter’s end there is a statement that rings so true and beyond debate: “I vote Democratic, because I’m pro-choice … except on schools, guns, trade, health care, energy, smoking, union membership, light bulbs, plastic bags, Walmart, what kinds of food you can eat. …”

Finally, there is a most important message from our 34th president, Dwight D. Eisenhower: “If all that Americans want is security, they can go to prison. They’ll have enough to eat, a bed and a roof over their heads. But if an American wants to preserve his dignity and his equality as a human being, he must not bow his neck to any dictatorial government.”

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Legalizing Mortgage Fraud

From Kevin D. Williamson:

In lieu of the usual complex regulation larded with special-interest favoritism, here is a simple mortgage rule that could and probably should be adopted: No federally regulated financial institution shall make a mortgage loan without the borrower’s making a down payment of at least 20 percent derived from his own savings.

Period, paragraph, next subject.

Instead of doing that, we are sprinting flat-out in the opposite direction, with government-sponsored mortgage giant Fannie Mae rolling out a daft new mortgage proposal that would allow borrowers without enough income to qualify for a mortgage to count income that isn’t theirs on their mortgage application.

The Committee to Re-Inflate the Bubble strikes again: We’ve just legalized mortgage fraud.

Claiming that the money you are using for a down payment is yours when it has been lent to you by a family member or a friend was a crime, too. (A felony, in fact; a whole subplot in The Wire was based on that crime.) There is a reason for this: People who have saved up enough for a down payment on a house are very different kinds of borrowers from people who haven’t, and people whose mortgage debt is two times their annual income are different kinds of borrowers from those with mortgages that are eight times their income. One sort of borrower is a great deal more likely to default than the other sort — and, as we learned a few years back, mortgage default can, under certain circumstances, turn out to be everybody’s problem rather than a problem limited to the jackasses who write low-quality mortgages.

But Fannie Mae, the organized-crime syndicate masquerading as a quasi-governmental entity, has other ideas. Under its new and cynically misnamed “HomeReady” program, borrowers with subprime credit don’t need to show that they have enough income to qualify for the mortgage they’re after — they simply have to show that all the people residing in their household put together have enough income to qualify for that mortgage. We’re not talking just about husbands and wives here, but any group of people who happen to share a roof and a mailing address. And some non-residents can be added, too, such as your parents.

That would be one thing if all these people were applying for a mortgage together, and were jointly on the hook for the mortgage payments. But that isn’t the case. HomeReady will permit borrowers to claim other people’s income for the purpose for qualifying for a mortgage, but will not give mortgage lenders any actual claim against that additional income.

This is madness.

But mortgage madness is very much the order of the day. Groups such as the National Association of Realtors — the ninth-largest campaign donor, second-largest spender on lobbying, and 13th-largest source of outside spending dollars — have a strong economic interest in seeing as many house sales as possible — that’s where commissions come from — and that means insanely easy mortgage terms, regardless of the consequences.

In this case, there is also an immigration angle. As Investors Business Daily reports: “It’s all part of a government campaign to ease access to home loans for Hispanic immigrants, who tend to live in groups and pool finances. . . . The National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals, a liberal trade group, is praising the move, arguing it will bring tens of thousands of Hispanic families into the home market who have been ‘skipped over’ by stingy (meaning prudent and responsible) lenders.”

And the down payments? Try 3 percent — i.e., squat.

Homeownership isn’t right for everybody. For one thing, enormous debt isn’t right for everybody, and homeownership without equity (3 percent, indeed) is nothing more than that. What’s more, as National Review’s Reihan Salam has shown, the social benefits associated with homeownership — stability, civic engagement, etc. — are present only when there is significant equity held. As Salam and co-author Christopher Papagianis put it: “The traits that enabled households to build up the savings necessary for significant down payments — hard work and the deferral of gratification — were misattributed to homeownership itself.”

Which is to say: Getting people without a ceramic vessel in which to engage in regular micturition nor the down payment and good credit to finance said vessel does not magically turn them into Ward and June Cleaver: It just makes them people who have added a huge new debt to their already-terrible finances. That isn’t so bad at times when house prices increase at a rate that outpaces the return on other investments, but that can go on for only so long. In reality — the reality that bit us on the hindquarters back in 2008 — the prices of houses, like the prices of widgets and lawn furniture and Picassos and aviation fuel and everything else, go up and down.

And when they go down, who is going to default? The guy who has put up 20 percent on a house that costs two times what he makes in a year, or the guy who has put up 3 percent on a house that costs 2.5 times what he, his wife, his parents, his uncle, his three spinster aunts, his son with the part-time job at Burger King, and that weird guy Bob who sometimes sleeps in the basement — all of them together — earn in a year?

All these years after the mortgage meltdown, we still don’t have sensible regulation of mortgage lending. We desperately need that. We also need to kill Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the Axis of Subprime Evil. And we need to do that before the next financial crisis is upon us, not in the middle of a new financial crisis.

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Against Trump

From National Review:

Donald Trump leads the polls nationally and in most states in the race for the Republican presidential nomination. There are understandable reasons for his eminence, and he has shown impressive gut-level skill as a campaigner. But he is not deserving of conservative support in the caucuses and primaries. Trump is a philosophically unmoored political opportunist who would trash the broad conservative ideological consensus within the GOP in favor of a free-floating populism with strong-man overtones.

Against Trump

Against Trump

Trump’s political opinions have wobbled all over the lot. The real-estate mogul and reality-TV star has supported abortion, gun control, single-payer health care à la Canada, and punitive taxes on the wealthy. (He and Bernie Sanders have shared more than funky outer-borough accents.) Since declaring his candidacy he has taken a more conservative line, yet there are great gaping holes in it.

His signature issue is concern over immigration — from Latin America but also, after Paris and San Bernardino, from the Middle East. He has exploited the yawning gap between elite opinion in both parties and the public on the issue, and feasted on the discontent over a government that can’t be bothered to enforce its own laws no matter how many times it says it will (President Obama has dispensed even with the pretense). But even on immigration, Trump often makes no sense and can’t be relied upon. A few short years ago, he was criticizing Mitt Romney for having the temerity to propose “self-deportation,” or the entirely reasonable policy of reducing the illegal population through attrition while enforcing the nation’s laws. Now, Trump is a hawk’s hawk.

He pledges to build a wall along the southern border and to make Mexico pay for it. We need more fencing at the border, but the promise to make Mexico pay for it is silly bluster. Trump says he will put a big door in his beautiful wall, an implicit endorsement of the dismayingly conventional view that current levels of legal immigration are fine. Trump seems unaware that a major contribution of his own written immigration plan is to question the economic impact of legal immigration and to call for reform of the H-1B–visa program. Indeed, in one Republican debate he clearly had no idea what’s in that plan and advocated increased legal immigration, which is completely at odds with it. These are not the meanderings of someone with well-informed, deeply held views on the topic.

As for illegal immigration, Trump pledges to deport the 11 million illegals here in the United States, a herculean administrative and logistical task beyond the capacity of the federal government. Trump piles on the absurdity by saying he would re-import many of the illegal immigrants once they had been deported, which makes his policy a poorly disguised amnesty (and a version of a similarly idiotic idea that appeared in one of Washington’s periodic “comprehensive” immigration reforms). This plan wouldn’t survive its first contact with reality.

On foreign policy, Trump is a nationalist at sea. Sometimes he wants to let Russia fight ISIS, and at others he wants to “bomb the sh**” out of it. He is fixated on stealing Iraq’s oil and casually suggested a few weeks ago a war crime — killing terrorists’ families — as a tactic in the war on terror. For someone who wants to project strength, he has an astonishing weakness for flattery, falling for Vladimir Putin after a few coquettish bats of the eyelashes from the Russian thug. All in all, Trump knows approximately as much about national security as he does about the nuclear triad — which is to say, almost nothing.

Indeed, Trump’s politics are those of an averagely well-informed businessman: Washington is full of problems; I am a problem-solver; let me at them. But if you have no familiarity with the relevant details and the levers of power, and no clear principles to guide you, you will, like most tenderfeet, get rolled. Especially if you are, at least by all outward indications, the most poll-obsessed politician in all of American history. Trump has shown no interest in limiting government, in reforming entitlements, or in the Constitution. He floats the idea of massive new taxes on imported goods and threatens to retaliate against companies that do too much manufacturing overseas for his taste. His obsession is with “winning,” regardless of the means — a spirit that is anathema to the ordered liberty that conservatives hold dear and that depends for its preservation on limits on government power. The Tea Party represented a revival of an understanding of American greatness in these terms, an understanding to which Trump is tone-deaf at best and implicitly hostile at worst. He appears to believe that the administrative state merely needs a new master, rather than a new dispensation that cuts it down to size and curtails its power.

It is unpopular to say in the year of the “outsider,” but it is not a recommendation that Trump has never held public office. Since 1984, when Jesse Jackson ran for president with no credential other than a great flow of words, both parties have been infested by candidates who have treated the presidency as an entry-level position. They are the excrescences of instant-hit media culture. The burdens and intricacies of leadership are special; experience in other fields is not transferable. That is why all American presidents have been politicians, or generals.

Any candidate can promise the moon. But politicians have records of success, failure, or plain backsliding by which their promises may be judged. Trump can try to make his blankness a virtue by calling it a kind of innocence. But he is like a man with no credit history applying for a mortgage — or, in this case, applying to manage a $3.8 trillion budget and the most fearsome military on earth.

Trump’s record as a businessman is hardly a recommendation for the highest office in the land. For all his success, Trump inherited a real-estate fortune from his father. Few of us will ever have the experience, as Trump did, of having Daddy-O bail out our struggling enterprise with an illegal loan in the form of casino chips. Trump’s primary work long ago became less about building anything than about branding himself and tending to his celebrity through a variety of entertainment ventures, from WWE to his reality-TV show, The Apprentice. His business record reflects the often dubious norms of the milieu: using eminent domain to condemn the property of others; buying the good graces of politicians — including many Democrats — with donations.

Trump has gotten far in the GOP race on a brash manner, buffed over decades in New York tabloid culture. His refusal to back down from any gaffe, no matter how grotesque, suggests a healthy impertinence in the face of postmodern PC (although the insults he hurls at anyone who crosses him also speak to a pettiness and lack of basic civility). His promise to make America great again recalls the populism of Andrew Jackson. But Jackson was an actual warrior; and President Jackson made many mistakes. Without Jackson’s scars, what is Trump’s rhetoric but show and strut?

If Trump were to become the president, the Republican nominee, or even a failed candidate with strong conservative support, what would that say about conservatives? The movement that ground down the Soviet Union and took the shine, at least temporarily, off socialism would have fallen in behind a huckster. The movement concerned with such “permanent things” as constitutional government, marriage, and the right to life would have become a claque for a Twitter feed.

Trump nevertheless offers a valuable warning for the Republican party. If responsible men irresponsibly ignore an issue as important as immigration, it will be taken up by the reckless. If they cannot explain their Beltway maneuvers — worse, if their maneuvering is indefensible — they will be rejected by their own voters. If they cannot advance a compelling working-class agenda, the legitimate anxieties and discontents of blue-collar voters will be exploited by demagogues. We sympathize with many of the complaints of Trump supporters about the GOP, but that doesn’t make the mogul any less flawed a vessel for them.

Some conservatives have made it their business to make excuses for Trump and duly get pats on the head from him. Count us out. Donald Trump is a menace to American conservatism who would take the work of generations and trample it underfoot in behalf of a populism as heedless and crude as the Donald himself.

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